Tips for Successful Wild Game Meat Processing
Plus, Learn Tips for Cooking Venison Steak
By Thomas Tabor – Wild game meat processing lets you enjoy one of the great benefits of hunting: harvesting meat yourself. If properly processed, in the field as well as at home, game meat can be some of the best eatin’ you’ve ever experienced. On the other hand, if you ignore your responsibilities or if you simply don’t know how to take care of the animal, the meat may be unpalatable and unfit for human consumption. Knowing how to process, package, and cook your wild game meat is a great step along the path to self-sustaining living.
The actions and efforts that you take in the field will have a crucial bearing on the flavor and palatability of the meat. As quickly as possible the animal’s entrails must be removed. It is very important that you do not rupture the stomach or intestines while removing them. In the event that this should occur, any meat that is affected must be cut away and discarded immediately. If at all possible, I also like to wash these areas with fresh, clean water. The same procedure would be called for if the animal’s urine or feces should make contact with the meat.
Wild Game Meat Processing: Starting at the Beginning
When it comes to wild game meat processing, many hunters have been led to believe that it is necessary to slit the animal’s throat, in the belief that this will “bleed out” the animal. But there is a major problem with this line of reasoning. When an animal is killed, the heart ceases operation and when the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing through the veins. While cutting a dead animal’s throat may result in some minor amount of bleeding, the amount is minimal and provides little, if any, benefit.
While many hunters know that it is important to gut an animal as soon as possible as a best practice for wild game meat processing, many don’t seem to appreciate how vitally important it is to get the hide off in an equally expedient manner. In order to keep the meat clean it is perfectly acceptable to leave the hide on until you get the animal out of the field and into a cleaner environment, but once it is out the hide needs to come off quickly.
There is no need to worry about removing any scent glands from the animal as part of wild game meat processing. Cutting out the glands in the legs of deer is another old time rule that has no benefit associated with it. The glands, if present, will be cleanly removed with the hide. While skinning you should be careful that the hair side of the hide doesn’t come into contact with the meat. In addition, every effort should be made to keep any loose hairs from becoming dislodged and attaching themselves to the meat. But, no matter how careful you are, some hairs are bound to get on the carcass. If you do, you might try wiping them off with a cloth saturated with white vinegar.
There are two reasons for promptly skinning an animal. First, when the skin is removed it speeds up the cooling process of the meat. A warm carcass is an excellent breeding ground for all types of bacteria and for that reason you should get the meat cooled down as quickly as possible. And second, hides are frequently contaminated with dirt, dust, urine and feces and have the potential to taint your meat.
In very warm weather it is even more crucial that the temperature of the carcass be lowered in an expedient manner. Some hunters, faced with very warm weather conditions, will even submerge the skinned carcass in a stream, river or lake to speed up the cooling. I know this is a controversial cooling method that some people may not agree with. Nevertheless, in some hunting situations it provides a perfectly suitable and expedient way of getting a carcass cooled down. Needless to say, this should only be done in clean bodies of water and only immediately after the animal has been skinned. The carcass should be left in the water only for a few minutes, then removed and wiped dry.
As long as there aren’t a lot of flies to contend with, I like to hang my meat for several hours in the shade prior to covering it with a game bag. If flies are a problem in your area, you might try sprinkling the carcass with finely ground black pepper or even spraying it down with an aerosol can of cooking oil. Both of these methods are said to be effective in discouraging flies from lighting on the meat.
Wild Game Meat Processing: Packaging and Storing Wild Game Meat
Aging meat is also a topic of considerable controversy. Some people feel that because wild game is in such good physical condition, aging the meat doesn’t produce any beneficial results. I don’t personally agree with this philosophy. When the conditions are right I like to hang my game meat a minimum of five days, up to a week. In order to do so, however, the temperature and weather conditions must be right. The ultimate hanging temperature is from 34-40ºF, and whenever possible, you should avoid hanging the carcass in direct sunshine.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be diligent in the removal of absolutely every bit of fat and sinew from the meat. The removal of this objectionable material is absolutely imperative if you are going to have good quality, untainted, flavorful meat. Unlike domestic raised animals, the fat and sinew of game animals is most often very strong tasting and unpalatable. Unlike butchering a pig, if it is not removed during the cutting/wrapping process the strong, rancid characteristic of this matter will impregnate the meat, making it equally undesirable. To a lesser extent, if the bones aren’t removed they can also transfer strong flavor to the meat. For this reason, I generally bone out all of my meat. It makes the meat taste better and at the same time it saves on freezer space.
Another area that you must be vigilant in is the removal of any blood-shot damage due to the impact of the bullet. All this material must be cut out and discarded, as well as the dried crust, or layer, that forms on the outside of the carcass.
In order to reduce the possibility of freezer burn, it is best to leave your meat in chunks rather than cutting it into individual steaks at this time. These chunks can easily be sliced later as you prepare to cook them.
A basic rule in butchering is to always make your cuts across the natural grain of the meat, otherwise, the meat will be tough. Unfortunately, this is not always possible or practical, particularly in the area of the front shoulders and along the brisket. For this type of meat, you might want to employ some form of meat tenderizing. Butchers often use electric powered tenderizing units, but if you are like me and don’t want to invest any more money in your butchering tools than is necessary, you might want to use a simple hand tenderizer to pound the meat. These do a great job for a lot less money.
Recently, vacuum packing units have become very popular. These are great to ensure airtight packaging, but while they work extremely well, they are also quite expensive to purchase and the bag material is equally costly. As an alternative, some people wrap their meat in two layers of butcher paper, but two layers of paper doesn’t really seal the meat up as well as first wrapping it in a layer of cling wrap followed by a single layer of butcher paper.
Wild Game Meat Processing: Fried Game Meat Steaks
If you want good quality game meat you can’t cook it the same way you would cook a piece of domestic grown beef or pork. One of my favorite ways to cook all types of game meat steaks is listed below (this is also a great way to learn how to cook venison, if you’re new to hunting and processing your own wild game meat):
I like to cut my wild meat steaks fairly thin so they cook quickly. Around 10-15mm seems to work best (roughly 1/2-inch). After slicing the meat it should be soaked for several hours in very cold water. A few ice cubes added to the water helps to ensure that the meat stays good and cold. Some people like to add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the water, particularly if the meat appears to contain a great deal of blood. Over time the water will draw out a significant amount of the blood, leaving the meat pale in color and mild flavored.
After the meat has soaked, lay it out on layers of cloth or paper towels in order to partially dry. If your animal was an old one, or you suspect that the meat could be a bit on the tough side, you might try sprinkling it with meat tenderizer, then allow it to set for an additional hour or two before cooking. For seasoning take a cup of flour and add salt, pepper and your favorite spices. After thoroughly mixing the ingredients, place the mixture in a paper or plastic sack along with the steak and shake it vigorously until the meat is completely covered.
Add four or five tablespoons of olive or other oil to the frying pan and turn the heat on high. (Olive oil is my favorite.) It is important that your pan is “smoking” hot before the steaks are placed in the pan to cook. Once the steaks are browned on one side, turn them over and do the same to the other side of the meat. This will seal the natural juices inside the steaks. Once thoroughly browned you can turn the heat down in order to finish cooking. It is important, however, that the steaks cook quickly. You should never cover the pan with a lid because this will cause the flour and seasoning to separate from the meat. One of the worst things you can do is over cook wild game meat. This will result in making your meat tough and dry. That is not to say that you should eat your game meat rare. It is important that you always cook wild meat thoroughly, but not to a point of total destruction.
Over the years I have eaten literally tons of wild game meat, including everything from rattlesnake to porcupines to wild and feral sheep to giraffes to Cape buffalo. Certainly, some of the meat has been better than others, but proper care of any meat is essential if you want it to taste good. Take time to care for your hunting harvest and it will be something that your whole family can enjoy for months after the hunt.
I’d like to leave you with one final word of advice. If you don’t listen to anything else I have said here, don’t forget to remove those choice tenderloins located inside the body cavity on each side of the backbone. There’s not a lot of meat to them, but what’s there will absolutely melt in your mouth. Eat it fresh. Fry it quick, and please, don’t over cook it.
Wild Game Meat Processing: A Few Basic Rules
In summary, there are a few basic rules to keep in mind when your hunt has been a successful one and you want to extend your sporting enjoyment through the eating of your bounty with good practices for wild game meat processing. Follow these rules and you are sure to have a culinary delight that your whole family will enjoy.
- Remove the entrails of the animal as soon as possible after the kill.
- Never allow your meat to become contaminated by the contents of the stomach, intestines and other internal organs, but if contact is made, be very diligent in the removal and cleaning of the contaminated areas of the meat.
- Get the hide off as quickly as possible so the meat can cool down efficiently.
- Be very careful to keep all hair and dirt off the meat and don’t allow the hair side of the hide to come in contact with the meat.
- Remove all fat and sinew from the meat at the time of cutting and wrapping and bone the meat out.
- Hang your meat in a cool, shaded area and never permit it to get wet after it has skinned over and firmed up.
- Prior to cutting and wrapping, never seal the carcass or meat up in such a manner that the air can’t adequately circulate around it.
Do you have any favorite techniques for wild game meat processing at home? Leave a comment here and share them with us!
Originally published in the September/October 2005 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.